New Project! 1963 Tele-LED Comfort Break Reminder

This old and unusual dial-less telephone now helps well-being and productivity to co-exist in the home office! Beneath its vintage grille a neopixel ring lights up 24 LEDs in sequence over an hour, switching to an eye-catching rainbow display when it’s time to take a break.

Ignore the rainbow and the LED ring starts flashing red, accompanied by a subtle but un-ignorable beep from the phone’s original buzzer unit.

That’s about 35 minutes.

To cancel the beeping or reset the timer at any time I just need to either press the button on the phone or momentarily lift the handset – both of which force me to get up and walk across the room.

Almost break time…

This project was nice & quick, just a bit of fun really, challenging myself to build something nice for the Instructables “Work from Home Speed Challenge” – but without buying anything new. I managed to re-use an old Zip Halo and Pi 2, learned a lot about controlling RGB LEDs, and ended up with a break reminder that I actually use daily.

The write-ups are available on Instructables and Hackster as usual, and the YouTube video should be embedded above.

 

New Project! Apollo Pi Thermal Camera

This vintage Apollo microwave detector now has a shiny new purpose as a thermal camera, powered by a Raspberry Pi Zero with an Adafruit thermal camera sensor taking the temperatures, displaying the results in real-time on a bright 1.3″ TFT display.

It has a Preset and a Dynamic mode – in the first the colours shown on screen are based on hard-coded temperature thresholds, and in the second the colour range can be adjusted using temperature sliders on an Adafruit.io dashboard.The dashboard also instantly displays any snapshots uploaded by the device, which are captured using the original thumb button on the grip.

The whole system is powered by a thin, cylindrical USB battery pack concealed in the hand grip, which can be easily recharged by popping off the nose cone and plugging in a USB lead.

Just three Python scripts control the menu logic, sensor and Adafruit.io integration, with the display handled by PyGame.

Working on this project has really helped keep me positive during lockdown, and with the extra time on our hands the kids & I have found many interesting things around the house to point it at!

The write-ups are available on Instructables and Hackster, and the scripts are on GitHub as usual.

New Project! The Cassette Pi IoT Scroller

The Cassette Pi is a self-contained real-time notification scroller, all housed neatly inside a transparent cassette tape. A Raspberry Pi Zero is sandwiched between the two tape reels, retrieving Internet of Things notifications from the fabulous IFTTT service, delivered almost instantly to the Pi via an Adafruit.IO feed and a Python script. The whole cassette vibrates to alert you to the incoming notification, and the text is then scrolled clearly across a Pimoroni 11×7 LED display.

The between notifications animation represents tape movement.

Everything is powered by a 150mAh LiPo battery, connected to the Pi via a LiPo Shim – also within the cassette is an Adafruit Micro Lipo so when the battery runs low it can be plugged directly into a Micro USB power source to grab some juice.

The most fun part is that thanks to some trimming of the Pi itself, the cassette can still fit inside any vintage tape player, turning that old ornament into a functional and classy Internet of Things device.

I couldn’t resist making a tape box for it.

The Cassette Pi is perfect for use as a conference badge too, dangling from a lanyard and scrolling your name or a custom message – I hope to wear it to a Pi event or jam later this year.

“Ask me about Old Tech”

This is probably my favourite Pi project to date, everything went smoothly for once and I love the final result, it’s a very tactile little thing. It was built in a bit of a hurry so that I could enter the Instructables Raspberry Pi contest 2020 – at the time of writing the results haven’t been published but I’m hopeful of winning at least a T-shirt prize pack.

The write-up for the Cassette Pi project can be found on Hackster and Instructables, the video is on YouTube and the (questionable as ever) python script is on GitHub.

I have a feeling I may do more of these in the future!

WeatherMan in the @TheMagPi

Very excited to have a project in  issue 90 of the MagPi magazine this month! There’s a lovely 4-page feature on the WeatherMan Pi , a 1980s cassette player that now displays weather info. on an LED matrix.

I built this project late last year and amazingly it’s still running, sitting on my desk every day and jiggling its earphones occasionally when the weather changes. The only problem I had was a few weeks back when the “current conditions” animation stopped working, then I realised I hadn’t included one for “Wind” – easily fixed.

I’d also half-expected the headphone assembly to fall apart by now, with all the spinning it does some days, but it turns out Sugru is stronger than I thought, good to know for future projects.

The MagPi’s a great read this month, all the usual Pi goodness plus a nice review of Pimoroni’s latest Pirate Audio HAT, I’m building a project with one of these at the moment and can confirm it’s awesome.

There’s also a helpful guide to building a Magic Mirror, something I’ve not tried yet, though I do have a stack of two-way mirror film left over from my Neon Infinity TV project so could well be tempted!

Issue 90 is on sale now in shops and available as a free .pdf download. You don’t get the free Raspberry Pi 4 cooling stand with the .pdf version though obviously!

 

New Project! The 1984 WeatherMan Pi

A walkman that displays the weather, the WeatherMan! Pi Zero smarts, LED icons, Dark Sky data and jiggling servo controlled headphones.

The WeatherMan Pi is an ambient weather display with early 80s style – animated weather icons, scrolling temperature text and graphical rainfall probability are displayed on a Pimoroni Unicorn HAT HD LED matrix, showing brightly through what was originally the cassette window.

When weather conditions change the servo-controlled headphones on top sweep back & forth to alert you.

Open up the magnet-latched cassette door and the Raspberry Pi zero and components are revealed for easy servicing, all held securely in place with Sugru mouldable glue. The weather data is sourced from the ultra-accurate Dark Sky API, and the data is refreshed every few minutes.

Precipitation Probability

This project was a lot of fun and only took a couple of weeks – the full build is documented below:

Instructables: https://www.instructables.com/id/1984-WeatherMan-Pi

Hackster: https://www.hackster.io/martin-mander/1984-weatherman-pi-77fb67

Youtube: https://youtu.be/9aZER9OiExg

Probably the last project for 2019 – we’ll be back in 2020 with a beautiful 1960s radio conversion.

 

Halloween Build – Dr. Tape Head

I was toying with the idea of a Halloween themed build a few weeks back but was stuck for ideas, then I came across an awesome fencing mask in a charity shop, and the idea for Dr. Tape Head was born!

I had a pretty clear idea from the start what I wanted – moving laser eyes, smoke generation and some kind of text to speech function to bring the whole thing to life.

DESTROY ALL HUMANS

I started by building the individual parts – eyes (ping pong balls with lasers and LEDs, cased in Lego) , ears (old headphones with speakers added) and mouth (cassette tape with pHAT Beat). I then built these into the mask, pulling together the code I needed to control them on the Raspberry Pi.

Next I cobbled together a Python script on the Pi to read text from a Google Sheets spreadsheet, then set this up to be auto-populated from the IFTTT service. This meant that the doctor would read out real-time notifications from the web, as well as messages sent directly to him via SMS or Google Assistant.

IFTTT Applets – Feed the Doctor!

Later I just had time to add finishing touches, with hair made from dismantled cassette tapes and an old mannequin hacked about to allow for clothing and a hidden power supply.

Getting the doctor up & running  was a really fun project – quite time pressured but great to jump on the Halloween bandwagon and work to a theme, i.e. spooky!

The full project write-ups are available at:

Instructables: https://www.instructables.com/id/Dr-Tape-Head-Undead-Media

Hackster: https://www.hackster.io/martin-mander/dr-tape-head-undead-media-c6f844

…and in case you can’t see the embedded video above it’s on YouTube at https://youtu.be/mykrJEozIoM

Happy Halloween!

 

New Project! Flirt Pi Internet Radio

This beautiful little “Flirt” transistor radio from 1970 has had a loving internet radio conversion using a Raspberry Pi Zero. All the original controls have been re-used and with its LiPo battery & LED VU meter it’s ready to bang out tunes in the bathroom.

Shaving has never been so funky.

This could be one of my favourite projects ever, it has just the right combination of Old Tech and New Spec, and was my quickest to date, providing music in the bathroom just a week after I picked it up at the car boot.

As ever I learned new things while building it, including re-using parts of the volume dial to make microswitches that look identical to the original controls – definitely a technique I’ll be using in future projects.

From the outside you’d never know they’re microswitches.

I also used a LiPo battery for the first time in this build, something I’ve been shy of in the past, and was pleasantly surprised with the resulting flexibility and impressive run-time. Using a combination of the Pimoroni LiPo Shim and an Adafruit Micro LiPo I was able to integrate the charging circuit into the build itself, pleasingly tucked away under the original battery lid.

The original power switch toggles the battery between the Pi and the charging board.

This was a lot of fun to build, and is providing daily service in the bathroom, playing Soma FM’s Secret Agent while I’m shaving every morning. The project is fully documented on Instructables, Hackster and (new!) Maker Share, with the simple Python code on GitHub as usual.

 

Pi Tourer Console in HackSpace Issue 23

Another great issue of HackSpace magazine this month, and I’m not just saying that because the Pi Tourer Game Console is featured on page 14!

Always wonderful to be included, and it’s great to think a pic of the back of by son’s head is sitting in newsagents throughout the land.

It’s a top issue this time around, great for inspiration – especially if you’re starting (as I am) to think about a spoooky project of any kind for Halloween.

I guess you’d call that a Pumpkin Pi?

You can grab the .pdf version for free at https://hackspace.raspberrypi.org/issues/23

 

New Project! Converting a 1980s Joystick for RetroPie

This Cheetah 125 joystick from the 1980s has had a full rebuild with shiny new microswitches, arcade buttons and a Pimoroni Player X controller board. It now has four independent buttons and connects via USB, ready for some serious RetroPie gaming action.

We had great fun converting this old joystick to work on RetroPie – it really brought back the glory days of “gaming” on my old Commodore Vic 20, I had exactly the same model when it was new.

The build wasn’t without surprises though, I’d forgotten that in the 80s all buttons performed the same function – four in this case all wired together! With the help of a Player X board from Pimoroni we were able to make each button independent, and added in a couple of extras to make RetroPie play easier.

The idea behind the joystick conversion was to provide Player 2 controls for the Pi Tourer Game Console, and it’s now added all the blood-pumping fun of head-to-head competition to our retro gaming, with predictable gloating from the younger members of the household!

The project is fully documented in the video above and on Hackster at: https://www.hackster.io/martin-mander/1980s-joystick-usb-conversion-1366ef

…also on Instructables at https://www.instructables.com/id/1980s-Joystick-USB-Conversion/

Now if you’ll excuse me there’s a father & son Dr Mario tournament starting soon and I really need to practice…

 

1963 Pi Tourer RetroPie Console

This 1963 Ever Ready car radio now has a new life playing RetroPie games!

It has a Raspberry Pi 3 and Picade controller inside, as well as a Pimoroni Blinkt that makes the front panel glow brightly in a range of colours, depending on what emulator is playing.

The fun doesn’t stop there though, thanks to its inbuilt handle and easy docking ports the Pi Tourer can be carried to other rooms, friends’ houses or anywhere a spare HDMI port can be found.

I couldn’t resist this 1963 radio at the car boot earlier in the year – it cost a princely £4. It was obviously not your normal car stereo however, as the underside had its own inbuilt speaker.

Research showed it had been a dual-purpose device, so you could remove it from your car and use it just like a normal portable radio. I decided to recreate this function, making it so it could “dock” with the workbench but still be easily removed and carried around to other retro gaming locations.

This project was as much fun to build as it is to play with, you can read the full story on Instructables and Hackster. The code I used to control the Blinkt colours based on the RetroPie emulator selection is all documented on GitHub.

For once this project turned out exactly as planned, there was just enough space in the case and I didn’t have to compromise on features. There’s one thing missing though – controls for Player 2! RetroPie is a ton of fun but playing against the kids takes it to another level altogether, apart from when they beat me, which is most of the time. For the next project we’re going to be building a controller for Player 2, upgrading an original 80s joystick and making it RetroPie-Ready.

Stay tuned for updates on that and be sure to subscribe on YouTube to catch the video when it’s released, probably around the 1st of September.